I head out at 6:30 this morning. Itís even colder than yesterday Ė minus 5!
When I arrive at Hellroaring, the crew already has the Junctions in view. Yay!
They are traveling from west to east but very low. My first view of them is at the bottom of the Tornado drainage. They are much closer than yesterday which is a relief. Given this low angle, the sunís arrival does not cause the same problems as it did yesterday.
This huge pack is travelling in 3 loose groups; the leaders and two separate follower groups. The first follower group heads up the west side of the big basalt cliff while the leaders continue past the front base of it. The second follower group takes a route lower than the leaders, as if aiming for the Yellowstone corridor.
The group that goes high has managed to bunch some elk at the top. Others are chasing a few of them, but in a very disorganized manner. These are most likely pups. They do worry the elk, but nothing develops.
The leaders continue steadily east towards Hellroaring Creek. The elk chasers travel across the top of the cliff and run down the other side, catching up with the leaders quite quickly. I get a count of 18 between these two groups and then add the 10 wolves closer to the river for 28!
The leaders cross the creek and the pack follows, but not in a line. They are spread out all over the place. I ask Laurie why they are not in a line, as they usually are. She suggests that if the snow is not very deep, as is the case right now, there is less need to travel in the head-to-tail lines we so often see when the snow is deeper. Individual wolves seem to delight in making their own way; some above, some below, some straight east, others uphill or downhill on the diagonal. But as a group they are all aiming in the same direction.
And they certainly seem to be aware of each other as they travel. Eventually they begin to converge as one group on the open slope. They have a howl and a mini-rally. Rick now has a count of 31. I notice Rickís method is to concentrate on how many grays he sees, so I try to do that, too.
Some bed on the open slope while others continue to explore. Some of them seem to have found an old carcass site. I see several heads down and a bit of play. Then one wolf tosses a pelt for his own amusement.
About half are bedded on this slope but as a whole the pack seems restless. Soon the majority are up again; exploring, wandering. The main direction changes from east to downhill.
It makes us all happy to have the wolves in such good view today, right in the open and relatively close.
More and more bedded wolves get up and follow the leaders downhill, getting closer and closer to the Yellowstone corridor. There is a bison herd down here in which some of them seem quite interested. The pack is not really united in this, though. Again, it seems to be a group of pups and perhaps some yearlings who are most interested in checking out the bison.
The leaders clearly have a different idea and head further downhill.
About 10 of the Junctions stop and sit for a bit to watch the herd. One or two begin to approach more closely and I see bison tails go up. They bunch, protecting the calves in the center. The bison certainly seem to take the wolves seriously and put on a show of strength.
It seems to do the trick because soon the wolves abandon this idea. They move west, some passing above the bison, some below, as if going to the river.
The leaders have again changed direction and are now going east again, approaching Little Buffalo drainage. This is apparently a usual route for them. They might be going back up to their carcass from Saturday, which is at the top of this drainage.
Unfortunately for us, this route takes them into thick forest, but I keep watching because it takes a while for 30 wolves to cross the slope and enter the trees. Once they enter the forest, I continue to catch glimpses of one wolf or another through tiny breaks in the trees. But soon most are fully out of sight.
The crew heads to Lower Hellroaring and I happily follow.
We do not re-acquire them from here, though. They may have passed through the forest into the dreaded Trough Ė an area where wolves cannot be seen from anywhere along the road.
A few people drive further east with the intention of climbing Vader Hill. Dan and Laurie and I try scoping from Wrecker but have no luck either.
Itís still pretty early, so we try moving again to Boulder. Alas, the Junctions still elude us. It seems like they are indeed in the Trough, and perhaps have stalled out or bedded there.
At 11:30 we call it a day and head back east. I see only one moose in Round Prairie and I also see a gorgeous red fox!
We head back in around 2:45. The day has warmed to 26 degrees. We start at Boulder and scope everywhere but the wolves do not emerge.
Then Laurie finds some elk moving nervously west of the basalt cliff. There is nothing behind them but their movement could be a clue that wolves are near. They might have chased these elk out of the Trough.
Jeff finds some bighorn to the right of the elk. I laugh because I now am looking into the setting sun, which is just as hard to deal with as the rising sun! I finally find the sheep, though. And I notice a pretty peach-colored sunset beginning.
We head back home around 4:00. On my way out of Lamar Canyon, I notice the expanse of still water below has turned a gorgeous shade of turquoise and reflects peach-streaked clouds. I stop at Dorothyís for another sunset photo. I canít resist!
Then I see a single coyote, which completes my 3-dog day.
Today I saw: bison, coyote, elk, fox, moose, 28 Junction wolves and the spirits of Allison and Richard.